Arianism Defeated by the Firstborn

Jesus Christ is undoubtedly the most significant person of all human history. He stands, not just head and shoulders above all men, but like a cosmic giant that overshadows all others into virtual insignificance. Amazingly, He has had far more than His share of detractors.

Today, there are many clergymen, both Catholic and Protestant, who will have Him be no more than a man. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have Him as first an angel, then a man. The Christadelphians see Him as just a man who had no prior existence.

Following the lead of Arius, a presbyter (c.250 - c.336A.D.) in an urban parish in Alexandria, many today admit His existence in eternity but they insist He was the first creature to come from the Creator’s hands. Semi-Arians acknowledge that Christ was Divine but deny that He is equal to the Father. Their contention is that, rather than being created, Christ was an emanation from the Father coming into being sometime in the mystic past.

Because of their previous background it is probable that the majority of the early leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were decidedly Arian in their teaching about Christ. The emphasis soon moved to Semi-Arianism, and later as the Church matured it moved to acceptance of the full deity of Jesus and acceptance of the Trinity doctrine. Today, there seems to be a resurgence of belief among a minority in the Semi-Arian position. These people seem to suffer from a hangover from the past.

As has often been suggested there are really no new heresies, the aberrations that come to the surface today are really old heresies in modern dress.

It is fascinating to note that God’s Word has an answer for all heresies. Sometimes they are found scattered here and there but on other occasions they can be found in the short space of a few sentences. Colossians 1:15-19 is sufficient answer for all of Jesus’ detractors. Here in magnificent fashion Jesus is shown to be God in the fullest sense. Of course there is much other evidence but our purpose will be to major on this passage.

Paul had to combat a Gnostic-type teaching which asserted that there are a number of emanations from God which were only more or less divine and which acted as intermediaries between God and mankind. It seems that false teachers were confusing the Colossians by their insistence that Christ was just a member of this hierarchical structure. Paul’s exalted teaching about Christ in Colossians shattered the Gnostic falsehood. Semi-Arianism, it will be noted, is a somewhat similar heresy on the point just made. Please join with me in a consideration of the wonderful things that Paul said about Christ in Colossians 1:15-19. (Unless otherwise stated all Bible quotations are from the New International Version).

Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”

It is true that it is said of man in the beginning that God made him in His “image.” – Genesis 1:26, 27. However, notice that this statement is balanced by the addition of the words “in our likeness.”

Man resembles God in several ways. Even after sin entered the world, even after the global flood of Noah’s day, he is still said to be in “the image of God.” – Genesis 9:6. However, it certainly could never be said of him that he was the exact counterpart of God. The Bible explains that men are “made in God’s likeness.” – James 3:9. Why ever would Paul make this statement if he only meant that Jesus was the image of God in the same way as all other men? Clearly, this is not what He was saying. As the context is unravelled this will become clearer and clearer. Only the Divine can truly picture the Divine. Only God visible could be “the image of the invisible God.” Jesus was God tabernacling in human flesh and because He revealed “the invisible God,” He was able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” – John 14:9. Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” While Colossians 2:9 asserts that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…”

Through their imaginations men have tried to create all sorts of images of God both visible and in their minds. The image that God reveals is shown forth in the person of Jesus Christ and unless we see Him as God we do not truly see the fullest manifestation of God available to us.

Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation.”

It has been well said, “A text taken out of context is but a pretext.” No one who has given the passage in which this statement is contained reasonable consideration could possibly arrive at the conclusion that Christ is a mere creature. The term “firstborn” can have a literal meaning as can be seen by reading Luke 2:7. However, the term is often used in the Bible for reasons other than to identify one physically born first. The natural firstborn in a family was entitled to certain rights and privileges which gave him the chief position among the offspring in a family, a position of honour and dignity. This figure was often transferred to other people and things to indicate their pre-eminent position. The following are some examples:

Yahweh said of His chosen nation, “Israel is my firstborn son.” – Exodus 4:22.

He also calls the tribe of Ephraim His “firstborn son.” – Jeremiah 31:9.

David was raised to the pre-eminent position, “the most exalted of the kings of the earth” and consequently Yahweh refers to him as His “firstborn.” – Psalm 89:27.

Speaking to Job, Bildad the Shuhite said, “death’s firstborn devours his limbs.” – Job 18:13. Evidently, this was the description of a disease considered to be the chief among the fatal maladies of the day.

Quite positively, the above examples of the Bible usage of the term “firstborn” cannot be taken literally. Is it not possible then that when Jesus is called “the firstborn over all creation” it means that He holds the chief or pre-eminent position over all creation? The context makes it quite clear that this is what Paul intended to convey, for he said that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation for (ie, because) by him all things were created.”

It is only too obvious that as Creator, Christ must have the pre-eminent position over all creatures – all creation. We are told plainly why Christ is called “the firstborn”; it is because He created all things and not because He was first-created Himself. The Revised English Bible provides a clear picture of what Paul intended to convey: “his is the primacy over all creation.” Surely it is clear that it is quite out of order to apply the term “firstborn” in a literal sense in this passage. It should also be noted that had Paul wished to say that Christ was “first-created,” he had a word (protoktistos) available, but neither Paul nor any other Bible writer uses this word with reference to Christ.

Paul was demolishing the Gnostic arguments and, as we are beginning to see, without knowing it was shattering those of all Arians at the same time.

“all things were created by him.”

Is it true that Jesus is just a lesser God acting on behalf of God the Father? Did Jesus merely create in the power received from the Almighty Father? Paul answers, “all things were created by him.”

Now let us notice something vitally interesting! Listen to what Yahweh says at Isaiah 44:24, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (emphasis supplied)

What an incredible refutation of Arianism we have here! Paul says that all things were created by Jesus; Yahweh says that all things were created by Him without assistance from anyone else. Jesus was not some emanation from Yahweh creating on His behalf. No! No! No! If we let Scripture speak for itself we have to acknowledge that Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is a name of the Triune Godhead; Jesus is a Member of the Trinity and the Divine Name is often used with reference to Him. For another clear example which shows that Jesus is Yahweh the Creator, compare the reference to Jesus found in Hebrews 1:8-12  with the reference to Yahweh contained in Psalm 102:24-27.

If it were true that Jesus is merely a created “thing,” we would have to conclude that He created Himself, for it is positively stated that “all things were created by him.”

All things were created “for him.”

This being true, how can it be legitimately claimed that Jesus is just a deputy-creator, creating for a greater God? If we want to be faithful to Scripture we never could make such a claim. We must also ask, “Why would anyone want to deny that Jesus is a member of the Godhead, the Almighty Creator?” I believe the Scriptures and I cannot deny the obvious. Jesus created for Himself and not for someone else.

“He is before all things.”

 Paul contrasts Christ with created “things.” He who made all things is necessarily before all “things” in point of time. Christ does not come from the realm of time; He is from the vast immeasurable ages of eternity.” John reports that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1. Before everything else Jesus was there.

Christ could not possibly be before “all things” and at the same time be a “thing” Himself.

“in him all things hold together.”

We are reviewing one amazing statement after another. Now we see that because of Jesus the Universe is a Cosmos and not a chaos. If He ceased to be, the whole creation would fall to pieces. Could it be said of any mere creature “in him all things hold together”? Of course not, but Jesus is not a creature; He is the Creator! He is Yahweh. He is a member of the Trinity.

Nehemiah 9:6 says of Yahweh, “You give life to everything.” Paul says that it is Jesus who does this.

He who created is alone able to sustain. As the song writer so aptly put it, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” We are entirely dependent upon Him. Every heartbeat is a signal that He is there and that He cares for us. He cares for us and loves us so much that He, the Creator and Upholder of the Universe, condescended to come down to this little planet, to His beautiful creation which we have marred, and suffer and die for us that we might find salvation and forgiveness in Him.

He is the Creator of the first chapter of the Old Testament. He is the helpless babe of the first chapter of the New Testament.

He who made all things became the man who had nowhere to lay His wonderful head – and all for our sakes. The weeping Jesus – the great King of the universe was nailed to a cross by men such as we, the work of His hands, in rebellion. How sublime is the gospel! What love! What grace! God surely loves us! How comforting to know that “the helm of the universe is held by the hands which were pierced for us.” – Alexander MacLaren.

He is the head of the body- the church.”

Having revealed Christ in His role as Creator, Paul now indicates His relation to the Church. He draws a parallel between Christ’s relation to the material creation and to the spiritual creation (the Church). Christ is supreme over nature and He is the chief One in the spiritual realm too.

Christ is “the beginning.”

Christ is “the beginning,” the arche. This Greek word is also used in relation to Christ in Revelation 3:14. Arians like to claim that this text too teaches that Christ was the first to be created. But rather, it means that He was the beginner, or the prime source, of creation. Many translations make this fact clear to us:

“the origin of God’s creation.” – The New Revised Standard Version.

“the source of God’s creation.” – The Revised English Bible.

Just as our Lord is the origin of Creation, He is also the origin (beginning) of spiritual life to the Church.

Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.”

It hardly needs to be demonstrated that Christ was not the first to rise from the dead. However, His is the primacy in this sphere as well, for all others resurrected before and after Him owed their freedom from death to His triumph over the grave. Truly, He is the pre-eminent One from among the dead. Christ was different from all other men because He is the source of all life; He alone had the power to lay down His life and to take it again (John 10:18). He alone has “the keys of death and Hades” – Revelation 1:18.

Christ came from among the dead as their representative, that those who have died in Him might be guaranteed deliverance.

“So that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

The sovereignty of Christ is unrivalled. Christ is Lord of creation – Lord of His Church – Lord of the dead. Pre-eminence is the theme Paul is expounding; he is showing the absolute supremacy of Christ, and it is not consistent with the context to try and insist that in the middle  of it all Paul is saying that our Lord is a mere creature.

“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

Christ was God in human form. As Paul said a little further on in his epistle “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” – Colossians 2:9.

What a wonderful testimony to the absolute Deity of Christ Paul gave when he wrote to those misguided Christians in Colossae!  We see more clearly now that Paul not only demolished the Gnostic arguments but, without knowing it, shattered those of all Arians at the same time. We need not be misled if we study the Word of God, for the answer to all heresies is found therein.

We learn of the living Word through a study of the written Word. As we come to know Him we find that He is sufficient for all our needs. But what of you and me? Have we surrendered our lives to Him that He may have the pre-eminence in our lives?

“Christ is not valued at all unless He be valued above all” – Augustine.